Universal Jewelers’ former owner faces grand theft charges over $400,000 in jewelry that disappeared when the store closed

By Gary Walker

Los Angeles County prosecutors are pursuing felony grand theft charges against the woman who owned Universal Jewelers nearly 16 months after the store’s abrupt closure left customers searching for gold, diamonds and other valuables left on consignment or for repair.

The longtime retailer in the Waterside at Marina del Rey shopping plaza closed without warning in October 2015 after
the death of co-owner Arnold Rose, which gave wife Yupa Kalayar control of the store.

Kalayar, 39, was arrested on April 1 in Marina del Rey on
one charge of felony grand theft and was released on $500,000 bail the following day. Kalayar was rearrested for a separate grand theft charge on Dec. 15 and immediately posted $70,000 bail.

“We have filed a case against Ms. Kalayar charging her with the theft of over $400,000 of jewelry,” Head Deputy District Attorney Richard Doyle said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigators later recovered much of the jewelry that had gone missing from Universal after searching various pawn shops throughout the area, said Det. Randy Lopez of the sheriff’s fraud and cybercrimes bureau, who took over the case from the Marina del Rey investigators.

Capt. Joseph Stephen of the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station said the complexity of the Universal Jewelers investigation has been an eye-opener for his detectives.

“I’ve never seen anything like this is in over 30 years in law enforcement,” Stephen told The Argonaut.

Kalayar, who opened a new jewelry store in Long Beach in March, is scheduled to appear at the Airport Courthouse in Westchester on Feb. 3 for an arraignment hearing, Doyle said.

But some of Universal’s more outraged former customers are taking matters into their own hands by suing Kalayar to recover their property.

Playa Vista resident Anita Eisenschiml won a small claims judgment against Kalayar in January 2016 for $7,875, but
thus far she has been unable to collect.

“I was told by one insurance company that even if the merchandise was insured it would have to be the company that would make the claim,” Eisenschiml said incredulously. “So Universal would have had to make a claim, which of course would have been fraudulent.

“I guess this type of crime does pay.”

Carolyn Hemann did not have any jewelry on consignment with Universal but suffered the same fate as those who did. The Westchester resident took her Rolex watch to the jeweler for repairs in 2015 and was shocked when the store closed without notification or instructions for retrieving personal property.

She estimates her watch was worth about $4,000.

“In addition to that, I had paid [Universal] another $2,375 for the repair of my watch and a down payment for platinum cufflinks that they still have. I am just sick about it, and was incensed when I found out that Yupa had opened another jewelry store in Long Beach,” Hemann said. “Universal was referred to me by multiple people who swore by them. They had their wedding rings and other jewelry designed by them.”

Shelia Ingram said she had entrusted Universal with three pieces of jewelry worth as much as $10,000, none of which she has been able to locate since the store shuttered.

“They should throw all of the culprits in jail,” Ingram asserted.  “I miss my jewelry and want it back.”

When Kalayar owned Universal Jewelers, she was represented by Dana Douglas, a Granada Hills attorney. But not anymore.

“I no longer represent Ms. Kalayar. She retained new counsel in 2016,” Douglas said.

Doyle said that Kalayar does not presently have an attorney on record with the court.

“If she does not have one on Feb. 3, one will be appointed for her on that day,” Doyle said.

Ingram said she had spoken with Douglas about her jewelry but never heard from Kalayar.

“I trusted Universal Jewelers, particularly since we designed and created one of the pieces together before they had moved to this locale. I remember the owner and his wife,” she said. “I had been a customer for years. Who knew?”

gary@argonautnews.com